Resource Center / Health and Lifestyle / Pet-Friendly Assisted Living: Everything You Need to Know

Pet-Friendly Assisted Living: Everything You Need to Know

Thinking about a move to assisted living, but can't imagine life without your furry friend? Seniorly's got everything you need to know about how to find a pet-friendly assisted living community near you.

By Marlena del Hierro Updated on Jul 11, 2023
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Few things bring constant comfort as consistently as our beloved pets. And if you or a loved one is considering a move to an assisted living community, finding a pet-friendly community is likely at the top of your list of priorities. And no wonder - our pets can provide a remarkably steady port in the sea of transition from one home to another.

Because of this, a burgeoning trend among senior living facilities is to adopt pet-friendly policies, understanding the precious bond between seniors and their furry friends. However, finding the right pet-friendly assisted living community can be a daunting task. So let's start with the basics:

5 health benefits of pets for older adults

Whether your pet is a service animal that provides valuable assistance or simply a beloved member of the family, studies have found that pet-friendly assisted living communities are doing more than just easing the move for seniors. The National Institutes of Health has conducted studies that identified both psychosocial and physiological benefits arising from senior pet ownership.

Generally speaking, seniors who bring their own pet to an assisted living facility are healthier, socially and emotionally happier, and live longer. Pets provide seniors with a chance to easily socialize with other residents in their community, enable them to maintain a sense of purpose in daily life, and give them a reason to remain active each day. While the list of the benefits for pet owners is long, here are a few good reasons to consider pet friendly assisted living:

  • Alleviate loneliness: Entering an assisted living home can be a significant transition in an elderly person’s life. Having an animal companion around can provide a comforting and familiar presence, easing feelings of loneliness or isolation. Through their unconditional love and companionship, pets can help seniors adjust to their new environments, assisting them in maintaining a sense of continuity and emotional comfort.
  • Boost physical activity: In the case of dogs or more active pets, they can demand a level of physical engagement that encourages regular physical activity in seniors. Whether it's a leisurely dog walk or playing fetch in the yard, these activities add to the amount and diversity of exercise that seniors get, contributing to a healthier lifestyle.
  • Reduce stress: There's something about stroking a cat's fur or cuddling with a dog that gives a sense of peace and calm. This kind of pet therapy can help reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure, improving the overall mental wellbeing of seniors.
  • Sense of purpose and routine: Owning and taking care of a pet provides seniors a sense of purpose and routine. The daily tasks needed for pet care – feeding, grooming, or even just sharing quality time, offers structured days and a fulfilling duty that keeps the mind and body engaged. This routine can provide a sense of normalcy and continuity, which is especially comforting in the new environment of an assisted living facility. This regular engagement can also keep cognitive functions sharp, contributing to overall mental health.
  • Foster social connections: Pets often serve as natural ice-breakers, providing residents common ground around which conversations and shared interests can spark. They open up avenues for social engagement, whether it's discussing pet care or simply sharing fun pet stories. These interactions can lead to meaningful relationships among residents, fostering a vibrant, interconnected community within the assisted living facility. Thus, pets don't only offer personal companionship but can also play a pivotal role in helping their owners form friendships and improve their social lives.

Pet therapy in assisted living facilities

Pet therapy, also known as Animal-Assisted Therapy, is becoming increasingly popular in assisted living communities due to its numerous physical and mental health benefits for seniors. Pet therapy programs typically involve scheduled visits from specially trained community pets – usually dogs – who interact with the residents under the supervision of a certified handler.

During the sessions, residents might pet, play, or simply sit with the therapy animal, providing comfort and triggering positive emotions. Studies have showcased that these interactions can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety levels, stimulate memory, and promote social engagement.

Pet therapy also provides residents who had to leave their own pets behind, or those incapable of owning a pet, a chance to enjoy the companionship and soothing presence of a furry companion. It's a meaningful initiative that enriches the living experience and contributes to the overall well-being of seniors in assisted living communities.

Pet-friendly assisted living: pet policies you need to know

While assisted living facilities are increasingly embracing pet-friendly policies, there are usually a few established guidelines to ensure the comfort and safety of all residents. Some of these include:

  • Size restrictions: Many facilities have policies regarding the size of the pet, often accepting only small to medium-sized animals. This is mainly to ensure that the pet can comfortably and safely live in the allocated living space.
  • Breed restrictions: Depending on the facility, some breeds (particularly of dogs) may not be allowed. These restrictions are often in place due to considerations about the breed's temperament or potential safety concerns.
  • Pet vaccinations and health records: To protect the health of all residents and other pets, facilities usually require up-to-date vaccination records and a recent vet check to ensure the pet is healthy and free from parasites.
  • Behavior assessment: Some facilities may require a pet behavior assessment to ensure the pet is well-behaved, non-aggressive, and will not pose a threat to other residents or pets in the facility.
  • Caregiving plan: Facilities commonly require pet owners to demonstrate that they, or a dedicated caregiver, are capable of appropriately caring for the pet, ensuring it does not become a nuisance or burden to others.

Each senior care facility also has its own set of pet policies. It's critical for potential residents to inquire about these during their search to find the best fit for them and their furry friends.

Touring pet friendly assisted living: questions to ask

sWhen touring pet-friendly assisted living communities, it’s essential to not only observe the environment but also to ask specific questions to ensure your pet will be welcome and well-cared for. Here are some pertinent questions you may want to ask:

  • What are the pet policies? Understand the community's rules regarding pets in detail. This should include size and breed restrictions, the number of pets allowed, and whether there are designated pet-friendly zones within the facility.
  • What are the pet fees? Find out if the facility charges additional fees for pets. These could include an initial pet deposit, monthly pet rent, or additional cleaning fees. Understanding the full financial responsibility will help avoid surprises down the road and helps assess if the facility aligns with your budget.
  • How many other pets are in the community? Knowing the number of pets already in the community can give you an idea of its pet friendliness. It will also help in understanding how your pet might need to interact and adapt to the presence of other pets, contributing to a smoother transition. Furthermore, a community that houses several pets often indicates a welcoming attitude towards animals, which could make for a more fulfilling experience for both you and your pet.
  • Is there easy access to outdoor areas? If you have a dog or an outdoor-loving cat, you'll want to know about the available outdoor areas where your pet can exercise and explore. You should also consider your climate; will you find it easy to walk your four-legged friend in the snow if you are in a cold weather winter climate?
  • Are there veterinary services nearby or on-site? The health of your pet is paramount, so you'll want to know if there are accessible pet health services should the need arise.
  • How does the community handle pet care if a resident is unable to? Understanding the support available for pet care can ensure your pet will always receive the care it needs, even if you temporarily can't provide it yourself.
  • What is the community's procedure in case of a pet-related incident? Knowing how the community handles potential issues such as a pet causing damage or disturbing other residents gives a good insight into its overall approach to pet management.
  • Can I speak with a resident who is a pet owner? Requesting to talk with current residents who have pets can provide first-hand insights into the community's pet-friendly attitude. These discussions can reveal the real-world experiences of pet owning residents, highlighting any challenges or perks that may not get discussed during a typical tour. Their satisfaction and perspective can be a useful gauge to determine if the community would be a good fit for both you and your pet.

Remember, it's not just about finding a place that allows pets, but finding a community where both you and your pet can thrive.

Pet care assistance: what can you expect?

A pet-friendly assisted living community typically offers a variety of services designed to ensure the well-being of both the residents and their pets. And if you're considering a truly pet friendly community, you should see evidence of their accommodations in their design and programming. Some examples of these include:

  • Pet-friendly outdoor spaces: Many pet-friendly communities prioritize outdoor space where pets can roam freely and residents can comfortably enjoy the fresh air with their animal companions. These spaces often include secure, designated pet areas or even full-scale pet parks, ensuring enough room for exercise, play, and socialization with other pets.
  • Dog walking and feeding services: To help seniors who might struggle with the physical activity of pet care, some communities provide dog walking services or can arrange for help with feeding. These services offer peace of mind, ensuring residents' pets are well cared for and getting the regular exercise and nutrition they require.
  • Pet grooming services: Regular grooming is essential for many pets. Some communities may offer on-site grooming services or partnerships with local grooming providers. These services often extend beyond regular washing and can include nail trimming, ear cleaning, and even specialized grooming for specific breeds.
  • On-site or nearby veterinary care: Access to high-quality veterinary care is crucial for pet health. Some assisted living communities offer on-site veterinary services or facilitate transportation to nearby animal clinics. This can include preventive care, treatment of illnesses, and emergency services.
  • Pet-centric activities: To create a vibrant and inclusive pet-friendly community, some facilities host pet-oriented recreational activities. These could include pet therapy sessions where pets interact with a larger group of residents, social events focused around pets, and even pet birthdays or pet appreciation days to celebrate the joy that animals bring to our lives.

These services not only enhance the quality of life for the pets, but they also contribute significantly to creating a comfortable and enriching environment for the residents.

Before you move to an assisted living facility: questions to ask yourself

Before you make any final decisions, it's equally important to consider whether your pet is well positioned to thrive in a senior living community. As the old adage goes, "just because you can doesn't mean you should". Consider the factors below to assess whether or not your furry friend is going to benefit from living in pet friendly senior housing.

  • Your pet’s temperament: Consider if your pet is well-socialized and easy-going around new people and other animals. Your new home in an assisted living facility will include sharing common areas with other residents and potentially their pets. An adaptable and sociable pet can make this transition much smoother.
  • Physical capabilities: As a pet owner, you might need to perform physical tasks like taking your pet for walks, cleaning after them, and maintaining their feeding schedule. You should honestly assess if you're physically capable of meeting these demands or if the facility offers services to assist with these responsibilities.
  • Pet’s age and health: Keep in mind the current age and health status of your pet. Older pets, especially those with chronic health conditions, may find the transition to a new environment more stressful and may require more frequent trips to the veterinarian.
  • Size of pet: The size of your pet can have a significant impact on their comfort and ability to adapt to the new environment. Large dogs, for example, may not have as much room to move around freely in an assisted living apartment and might require more physical exercise than spaces allow. A more active dog might not make a great candidate for assisted living.
  • Costs: The costs associated with pet ownership can be substantial. Make sure you factor in the cost of food, grooming, vet check-ups, and pet-related medication. The facility may also charge additional pet-related fees that need to be part of your budgeting plan.
  • Incontinence: Unfortunately, some pets may struggle with incontinence, especially in their old age. This is a critical consideration, as managing your pet's accidental soiling can create additional responsibilities for you and might lead to extra cleaning charges from the facility.

Pet-friendly assisted living communities offer a valuable resource in maintaining and improving the quality of life for seniors and their companions. The benefits of pet ownership are undeniable, from fostering companionship to improving health outcomes, yet it's critical to take a thorough approach in the selection process. Asking the right questions, understanding each community's pet policy, and considering the needs and capabilities of both yourself and your pet can pave the way to finding an ideal home that welcomes and cherishes the bond you share with your pet. The rise of pet-friendly services, from pet care to pet therapy, in these communities, further underscores the growing recognition of pets as integral to individual well-being and happiness. Guided by informed choices, seniors and their pets can continue their bond and enjoy the golden years together in comfort and companionship.

Find pet friendly communities today!

Works consulted:

  • E. Paul Cherniack. "The Benefit of Pets and Animal-Assisted Therapy to the Health of Older Individuals." Nov 16, 2014.
  • Noreen Orr. "What are the effects of animals on the health and wellbeing of residents in care homes? A systematic review of the qualitative and quantitative evidence." Mar 25, 2023.
  • Jason W Stull. "Health Benefits and Risks of Pets in Nursing Homes: A Survey of Facilities in Ohio." Apr 2, 2018.
  • Nancy R. Gee. "Human–Animal Interaction and Older Adults: An Overview." Aug 21, 2017.
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    written by:
    Marlena del Hierro

    Marlena del Hierro is Vice President of Partnerships and Seniorly’s Lead Gerontologist. Marlena earned her Master of Arts degree in Gerontology from San Francisco State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development from California State University. She also serves in an advisory capacity for Jukebox Health. As Seniorly’s first employee, Marlena is a vocal advocate for evolving the aging paradigm, and is a frequent contributor to public discussions about aging. She has served as a resource for media outlets like WGBH, FOX News, CNBC and the Today Show.

    To learn more about Seniorly's editorial guidelines, click here.

    View other articles written by Marlena

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